Not unlike reading a Murakami book or watching a Miyazaki film, playing Ni no Kuni is sort of like wandering into a dream.
This makes sense, because Ni no Kuni mostly takes place in a dream world. It's a fascinating place conjured up by the folks at Studio Ghibli, the charming animation studio behind flicks like My neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away.
Though I didn't get to play much of this upcoming PS3 role-playing game at E3 last week, I did take the time to play a ten-minute demo that took me into the pig-infested city of Hamelin. (Ham-elin. Because there are pigs. Get it?)
Hamelin is a gorgeous, sprawling city with buildings that clink to life and wheel around in stirring mechanical fashion. It's also dangerous — from what I could tell from the demo, protagonist Oliver and his party were trying to sneak into the palace without getting caught by one of the many pig guards.
If you've played one of developer Level-5's other games, like Dragon Quest VIII, you probably know they have a proclivity for puns. Sometimes awesome, sometimes annoying, these puns are out in full force for Ni no Kuni's English localisation.
Some examples include a pig fighter called the Boarrior and a water attack called "Splish Slash."
Characters also speak in traditional Level-5 colloquialisms. There are weird accents and dialects sprinkled throughout every dialogue box. A cat-person might replace her pers with purrs, for example, crooning out gems like "purrfection" or "purretty."
Feel free to groan at all this.
Still, I'm pretty damn hyped for this RPG. Combat is sort of like a blend between Dragon Quest and Pokémon. There's your standard turn-based jazz, complete with spells and elemental weaknesses, and then there are monster allies: each character has two different partners that they can send out to help attack enemies at will.
Once Oliver and his party (a young girl named Esther and an older, roguish man named Swaine) have explored the city for a little while, they run into a procession of nasty pig guards who seem to be escorting a nasty pig prince. This eventually leads them into a boss fight against a heavy-duty machine that is weak against wind attacks. Fortunately, there are a lot of wind attacks at your disposal.
Boom. The demo ended once I took down the machine, and I immediately wanted to play more. Sadly, we'll all have to wait until January 22, 2013 to get our hands on the game, which is super far away.
To sum it up, Dragon Quest + Pokémon + Studio Ghibli = Ni no Kuni. Exciting formula, don't you think?